|Do What We Can
Author: KarToon12 PM
One Shot: Steve feels he might never adjust to the modern age; wondering if he ever truly made a difference...but then a fateful encounter with a young lady helps lift his spirits in a way he could've never imagined.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Hurt/Comfort/Drama - Captain America/Steve R. - Words: 11,443 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 78 - Follows: 7 - Published: 04-29-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8070029
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Steve Rogers was never one to brag, but if a person asked him what his greatest asset was, he could say without question that he was a man who never gave up. He was the "man with a plan"; ready to take on any challenge that came his way.
But even the great Captain America had his limits…and this was one situation he could've NEVER possibly prepared for. Some days, he had to admit he would've gladly walked back onto a battlefield than be stuck where he was right now.
In a dorm room-studying.
Now granted, it wasn't all that bad at first. The harder pill to swallow was the fact that he had become a human popsicle; waking up 70 years later to find himself in a completely different world…and all his loved ones gone. The first few nights were the hardest-his nightmares consisting of flying cars and flying missiles…fireworks and fire fights…and it the middle of it all, a misty-eyed Peggy begging him to dance with her, only for Johann Schmidt to take her in his arms and taunt Steve for failing her…twisting and twirling across a bloody dance floor, before ripping his face off to reveal his red skull underneath as a sick and twisted grand finale.
Suffice it to say, all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the nightshift grew accustomed to hearing screams coming from the sleeping quarters at three A.M.
But it got better…mostly due to the several thousand wonders all around him that served as a great distraction. From microwaves to IPods, to even soda coming in a can and not a glass bottle, everyday was a new adventure, and for the most part, he actually enjoyed it. It was pure escapism, and he was more than grateful for all the technicians and their infinite patience…and the techs, in turn, quickly discovered that just because this man hailed from an era without the internet didn't mean he was stupid. Perhaps it was his almost child-like curiosity at such mundane things that made the agents eager to assist him, and he would quickly throw them for a loop when he had the basics of a cell phone figured out in less than a week. Even in 2012, he was still surprising people with what he could accomplish.
But all the Alice in Wonderland-esque discovery would grind to a halt when it came time for Steve to hit the books. Even a bookworm like him couldn't fathom just how much reading he'd have to do. Cramming over 70 years worth of history into his brain made his head spin, so Natasha was kind enough to hammer out a study plan for him. Starting from the 40's, he would solely focus on just one decade for a month, so hopefully, after a span of six months, he'd be completely caught up on all the events he'd missed.
And there he sat, in his quarters, every night for three hours, huddled over a Kindle, as he schooled himself on a century's worth of learning. For six straight months, he found out about television, moon landings, medicine, disco…Vietnam, computers, rock bands, assassinations, civil rights…EVERYTHING. If only Doctor Erskine could've seen it…if only he could've grown old with everyone else and saw it…Howard…Dugan and the Commandos…Bucky…Peggy…
But one man could only take so much…and finally, one day, he had to stop. His eyes felt like they were ready to bleed…and maybe it was also because he'd left off on the chapter about 2001…the images he saw were enough to make him throw the Kindle at the wall; effectively smashing it to pieces as tears began to build.
He could accept the fact he was frozen and woke up almost a century too late. He could accept that he'd have to rebuild his life from the ground up. Hell, he could even accept that everyone he knew was dead…hard as it was, he had to.
…but to miss out on so much…to read about so much triumph, but also so much tragedy…if only he could've been there for any of it…maybe he could've done something…helped save even just one person…
…but no…he just had to crash land and get himself killed (so he thought at the time, anyway)…all of his achievement and potential left to freeze in a tundra while the world passed by, and more blood being spilt in new conflicts that arose throughout the decades…conflicts that maybe he could've helped prevent, or at least shorten the duration of.
But he had failed…he stopped the airship, and he had still failed…and that was one thing he could never accept.
So he decided to leave. His head was still spiraling from what he had been reading before he lost his temper, and if the broken Kindle was anything to go by, he figured he should take a breather before he did something even more reckless. The gym was a no go; sure he could hit stuff, but it would only make him focus on his problems even more…and damn his metabolism for forever cursing him to never being able to drown his sorrows.
No…what he needed was a walk. A good, long walk…one filled with distractions to take his mind off his broken armor, at least for a while…and boy, did modern day New York have PLENTY of distractions.
So, dressed in blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and a brown, 40's-style bomber jacket (courtesy of Nick Fury and proof even he had a soft spot under the eye patch), Steve let security know he was going out for some fresh air. He had no clue where he was headed, so the secretary kindly reminded him to keep his phone with him at all times, just in case. He absently nodded; not wanting her to think he still needed a chaperone to explore his own hometown…although, truth be told, he would've preferred getting lost. At least then, he could spend more time exploring and collecting his thoughts.
So, armed with only fifty dollars, a cell phone, and his card key to get back inside, Steve trudged out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, out the secret passage, and into modern day Times Square.
Six months into living in the 21st century, and he still grew wide eyed at the sight that always greeted him. The sounds, the colors, the lights, the giant TV screens and advertisements…the first time he bared witness to the future was the only time he was terrified…now it was just wondrous…like exploring a whole new planet. So, like any good explorer, he picked a random direction and started walking…and listening…and looking.
He gazed at everything and anything; trying to make sense of the new place that was once his home. But it WAS still his home, right? This was New York City for pete's sake…and yet, every building he laid eyes on; every corner he turned, was changed to the point of being unrecognizable, or gone completely from when he last remembered it. The department store where he used to buy his art supplies was now an office building. His favorite restraunt was in the process of being turned into an Apple store. Thankfully, the theater he used to frequent was still there, but it had gone under major renovations-boasting 3-D and high definition, whatever that meant.
And that's when he caught sight of the alleyway next to it. The alley where he had gotten beaten up…where Bucky had saved him…
A gangly-looking teenager emerged from a side door to take out the trash. He caught sight of Steve seemingly staring at him-looked around in confusion, then awkwardly waved to him.
Not wanting to be rude, Steve forced a smile and waved back, but inside, his heart was ready to burst. He quickly shuffled away before the situation grew even more awkward.
"What's wrong with me today?" he thought. It wasn't like him to be this melancholy. Granted, he had his good days and bad days, but this one was just eating away at him. Maybe because his studies kept him preoccupied…that this was the first time he had truly thought about the gravity of his situation, that it was blocking out everything else. 70 years…seven decades of the world spinning along without him, and the world seeming to get along just fine. He hadn't been there for the end of the war, and it wouldn't have much mattered-a giant bomb took care of it.
All of Erskine's research, dedication, and hard work to try and make a man better…and instead, the war was won with an atomic bomb.
What made YOU so special?
Johann Schmidt's words echoed in his mind; taunting him like a bad smell that refused to dissipate. Back then, the answer was simple and clear.
Nothin'. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn.
But the more he walked, and the more unfamiliar landmarks he passed, the more a disturbing thought came to him. Had he really made that big of a difference? In the end, he was still just one soldier…a super solider, yes, but just one soldier. Others were supposed to have followed after him, but none did-the most amazing formula, lost forever because of one HYDRA bullet. The government was so adamant to have Project: Rebirth be a success…and then it was as if it never happened. The world got along without the serum; instead using weapons and individuals with a lot of courage. Was it all worth it? Was the project all just a waste in the end?
What made YOU so special?
"What am I thinking?" Steve shook his head, "New York would've been a pile of rubble if Schmidt's bombs had made is ashore. What if I wasn't there to stop him?"
The revelation perked him up considerably. There was no way he could say Project: Rebirth was a waste. It had given him the chance that nothing else could have. Without it-without Erskine, he would've still been stuck in Brooklyn, never to see Bucky again; watching as a missile with New York's name on it, literally, came plummeting down.
What made YOU so special?
And yet…as he waited at a crosswalk, another thought suddenly occurred to him. Yes, he had done the impossible. Him, Bucky, the Commandos, anyone who had ever served-they ALL had done the impossible…but did anyone still remember? Was what happened 70 years ago still relevant? Of all the history books he had to read, he and all his friends pretty much stayed in the 40's section. Beyond that, it was as if they all disappeared without a trace. The exception was Howard Stark, which he wasn't too surprised at that, given how public his image was. He even had a son, which WAS surprising-carrying on the family legacy. He made a mental note to meet with his friend's descendant as soon as possible.
But after the 50's, everyone else just dropped off the radar. A few pages in a history book that kids nowadays would just be skimming through in a classroom. Not that he could completely blame them, though. The world had developed a whole new slew of problems since then; all of which were being resolved (or trying to) by the new technology and rules being spun.
And that was another thing-the ethics-good lord, the ethics. A change in clothing style, a change in slang, in music-it was amazing, yet overwhelming. He was already awkward enough socially as it was; how could he even possibly try to figure out what was considered "in style" now? As he crossed the street, he spied a couple walking past him-smiling and giggling-hand in hand…a woman with skin as white as snow, the man as dark as the night. And not a single head turned as they passed. An interracial couple, and no one gave it a second thought. He wouldn't deny it took some getting used to for him…but it still made him happy. That's what America was all about-the freedom to do whatever one desired. And he fought hard for it-they all did.
He just wished more people remembered…and could he ever fully adjust?
What made YOU so special?
Nothin'. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn.
And right now, that's all he was.
A loud rumble broke his train of thought, and he realized it was his stomach. He'd been studying so long, he forgot he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. Maybe having a quick bite would make him feel better. With the help of some friendly passerby, Steve managed to find a rather pleasant-looking café just a few blocks away. Upon entering, the overall look of the place is what immediately caught his eye. The music was more modern; the navy blue paint was fresh…and yet, the hardwood floors were scratched and scuffed-same with the table and chairs. And the barstools had seen better days. Clearly, this restraunt was stuck in an odd transition; mostly holding onto the old, but with a few modern adjustments.
It fit Steve to a 'T', and it actually made him smile.
Soon enough, he was seated at a booth near the back of the café; polishing off a hamburger and ordering a second one. Between skipping breakfast and his increased metabolism, no wonder he was starving. As he got to work on the french fries, his eyes glanced over; catching sight of a pencil laying on the table. No doubt a waitress accidentally left it there. And it was then that his inner artist began poking at him. The poor thing looked pretty lonely just sitting there, when it could've been used to create something…and the backs of the paper place mats were blank…
A minute later, and Steve barely noticed the second hamburger being placed on the table, as he was setting to work on sketching. Of what, he hadn't the slightest clue, but he knew an idea would come to him eventually. It was just a nice feeling to be able to lose himself in his hobby for a while…harkening back to lazy afternoons when it was just him and the sketchpad…or doodling funny pictures to cheer up Dugan and his crew when they weren't out battling HYDRA. Maybe he could draw a portrait of all his friends? That'd be a nice way to remember them all…but he'd wait to do it on a GOOD sheet of paper-not on the back of a grease-stained menu…
…he had almost drown out all other noises around him; thinking he finally had an idea…
"Please, just give me a chance! Just one more chance!"
The high pitched voice caught his attention, and Steve noticeably jumped. Glancing up from his drawing, he scanned the café, only to find no one else there but himself. He had been so focused on his artwork, he hadn't noticed that everyone else had left. So where had that voice come from?
His question was soon answered when there came the sound of a door being thrown open. And a second later, the voice spoke again-much louder this time, and more panic stricken than before.
"Please, Mr. Kirby, I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I promise I'll do better. I know I can do this, if-"
But the high voice was harshly cut off by a man yelling.
"I don't want to hear any more of your promises! You've messed up for the last time!"
Steve immediately put the pencil down; turning his head to listen more carefully. By then, he had realized that his booth was the closest to a hallway that lead to the back area of the café…and clearly, the two people arguing didn't know they weren't completely alone. The first voice was definitely a young woman, and her desperation mounted as she begged.
"Please, just one chance; that's all I ask."
Steve was about to peek around the corner of his booth when the words made him pause…it was more than eerie how familiar they were.
The man's angry tone put an end to the conversation, "You've had enough chances…and you're fired!"
A door slammed shut, and then silence.
And then, moments later, a faint sobbing could be heard; getting exponentially louder as the mysterious person drew closer to where Steve was seated. He was about to get up to see just what the commotion was, when the girl in question rounded the corner. She was very petite', with her apron that was too sizes too big making her appear even smaller. Her pink T-shirt and blue jeans carried plenty of stains-her pink Converse sneakers just barely tied. With light brown hair loosely wrapped into a pony tail, the thing that stood out on her the most, oddly enough, was the bright yellow daffodil neatly perched in her hair wrap. In fact, it almost looked real.
The girl stood a few paces away from him-practically scrunched in a ball as she tried not to weep too loudly. The whole scene tugged at Steve's heart, both in pity and anger. He knew exactly what it was like to be on the receiving end of a bully, and it took every ounce of his will power to not rush back to the office and punch the manager into last week. Why waste his strength when there were more important matters to deal with. He couldn't just sit back and watch all of this; he had to say SOMETHING…but what? For all his combat training, there was no manual when it came to women, especially when they were crying. His gut instinct would've been to give her a hug, but THAT would've just been weird. 40's or the millennium, that's just wrong.
So he decided to try and say something Bucky would say…he was much better at this sort of thing than him…
Steve cleared his throat, "Um…miss?"
The girl gasped at his sudden words and swiveled to face him; discovering that someone was watching her. And it allowed the soldier to finally see her face. Her thick glasses did little to obscure her freckles and tear-stained cheeks. Big, green, glassy eyes regarded him in confused shock, as if she wasn't sure whether to be relieved or scared that she'd been caught weeping. But judging how her breathing seemed to calm, it was clear she was checking him out-looking him up and down much like Peggy did when he was first transformed. All in all, she was no beauty queen, but still quite cute.
For a full minute, neither said anything-both just blushing and wondering what to do next. But soon enough, the girl found her voice; speaking just above a whisper, "…you heard all that…didn't you…?"
Steve rubbed the back of his head; frustrated that, once again, he hadn't made the first move, "Um…well, I…I overheard, but…"
His words trailed off as he found himself at a loss. How could he explain that he didn't intend to eavesdrop, but DID, for all intents and purposes? The young woman turned away; not meeting his gaze, but clearly, she was more embarrassed than angry. With a heavy sigh, he muttered the only words that could come to him, "I'm sorry…"
The girl rubbed her eyes-sniffling, "It's not your fault."
The soldier then began fishing through his coat pockets-producing a handkerchief a moment later. He held it out to her-adding in a tiny smile, "Here."
The young woman regarded the blonde haired man for a moment; a bit thrown at this sudden act of kindness. And Steve, for his part, wondered if her apprehension was due to being yelled at just minutes before…or was she not used to people reaching out to her to begin with? Either way, he began to worry, and was preparing to rise from the table, when just then, the girl slowly trotted over and gently took the handkerchief from him. She wiped her eyes; fighting back a fresh wave of tears, "Thank you…"
"You're welcome", Steve nodded. He gave her a few seconds to gather herself, before continuing, "I guess we're both having a rough day."
The young lady managed a small nod in agreement.
The soldier took a deep breath; time to see if he could finally conquer his naiveté' with women. He raised a brow, "…do you want to talk about it?"
She thought for a moment, but then shook her head.
"So much for being Mr. Smooth", he thought. Time for a different approach, "Okay…well…why don't you sit down for a second? Try to calm down."
Despite still combating tears, the girl gave Steve an odd look; clearly contemplating whether it was a good idea to sit with a stranger or not. But he, in turn, wasn't about to give up. His eyes fell upon the sun-kissed plant seemingly sprouting from her head, which made her tearful display look even sadder. Had the circumstances been different, he would've actually laughed. But he suppressed the amusing thought to just a smirk as he soothed, "…you know, it's not very good to cry like that, especially with such a happy-looking flower in your hair."
He pointed to the daffodil in question, to which she glanced up at it, then back at him. His innocent smile was enough to put a band aid on her wounded pride, and as she gazed into his gentle, blue eyes, she realized he meant well. Her cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink as she slowly sank into the booth with him. Although she faced him, her eyes stayed trained in her lap. Breath hitching and hiccupping, she muttered, "…got it from my garden…they're pretty resilient. Even in a cold chill, they still manage to poke through the frost…they always rise up and sprout again." She sniffed back a tear, "They're great survivors."
Her soft words caused Steve to pause for almost a full minute.
Completely unaware of what she had unintentionally implied, the girl suddenly caught sight of the blank menu that her new companion had been doodling on. There were the beginnings of a lush looking tree, a few birds, and the outline of a grassy field. Nothing too concrete, but enough substance was there to make her let out a tiny gasp, "You're an artist?"
Steve was so deep in thought, he almost didn't catch her question. He blinked at her, "…excuse me?"
"Your drawing", she nodded at the paper place mat, "It's amazing."
Now it was the soldier's turn to blush, "Oh, this? Oh, I…I was just doodling."
The young lady just shook her head in amazement, "I wish I could draw like that…" She sunk back into the booth-practically melting into the hardwood. Her voice dropped to a tiny stutter, "…I'm no good at anything."
This time, Steve sat at attention. He knew that feeling all too well, and how damaging it could be. Best to try and end the drama now before it was too late. He inclined his head towards the back room, "Did HE tell you that?"
She shook her head, "No…I'm telling myself that…because it's true."
The lady appeared ready to burst into a fresh set of tears, so the soldier thought quickly. He made sure his words were assuring, but firm; not wanting a bully to claim another victim, "No, it isn't. Everyone's good at something. You just need to find what it is."
He hoped that would cheer her up a tad, but no such luck. Clearly, this girl had been fed the same line before, and had given up. The blonde man scratched his head; pondering what to do. He was no psychologist by any means, and now, all of a sudden, he had to play grief counselor. His eyes fell back to his artwork…and it was then that the proverbial light bulb went on. Grabbing the pencil, he leaned in and said with a smirk, "Tell you what-you try taking the weight off your shoulders, and I'll draw something for you. Deal?"
The young lady regarded him for a moment; staring into his sky blue eyes as she considered his proposition. This complete stranger was willing to sit and listen to her? And draw something for her? Such random kindness was virtually unheard of. But as he let an angelic smile come forth, she came to reason that his offer was sincere. So much so, it almost made her cry again…but she held back the tears. Instead, she took a deep breath…and slowly, the words began to pour out.
"I'm nothin' but a big klutz."
The young woman had long since disposed of her apron, and was sitting in the booth with her back to the wall; feet on the seats-knees tucked to her chest. She stared absentmindedly at her ex-coworkers as they waited on a fresh batch of people who had entered the café. Steve, on the other hand, kept his pencil to the paper; scribbling away as she talked. But he kept the paper tucked in enough so that he could keep his artwork a surprise. Various customers came and went, but for the most part, the odd pair was pretty much left alone.
The conversation started off easy enough. The soldier had gently asked her about her family, and she replied in kind. For how quiet she was just a half hour before, to hear her be so suddenly forthcoming was odd. But he figured whatever she had to say must've been something she wanted to get off her chest for a while, but never had the opportunity. She explained that her father was a basic level doctor; working in various pharmacies, which left him little time to spend with his family. And for mysterious reasons, her mother was very frail, and prone to sickness. So, the young lady had taken up the café job to do her part to help her family out…or at least pay her own way and not have her dad's paycheck pay for both women in the house. For a girl who only looked to be about seventeen years old, such a selfless trait was admirable, and Steve made sure she knew that.
But she waved off the compliment, saying she couldn't do anything right. "People always get mad at me when I screw up. I guess I broke too many dishes, and my boss couldn't take it anymore." She then leaned over, cutting her voice to a whisper, "I was starting to really hate it here, anyway. But I mean, you don't ever want to go to your job, thinking it's going to be your last day."
Steve paused in his sketching; staring off into space as he thought a moment. Not knowing what else to say, he just gave a limp shrug, "No…no, you don't."
The young lady continued, "I mean, I actually don't mind all that much, getting fired". She then let out a sigh and shook her head, "But why did it have to happen TODAY of all days?"
The soldier looked up from his drawing; both concerned and curious, "What's today?"
The girl scrunched up into an even tighter ball, "…it's my granddad's birthday."
"Well, I'm sure a nice party will cheer everyone up", Steve smiled; trying to lighten the mood.
His companion blinked at him, before raising a brow, "Um…he passed away years ago."
Steve's face instantly turned pinker than the girl's T-shirt, and his eyes fell to his drawing, not wanting to look back up, "…oh…"
The girl couldn't help but let out a tiny giggle at his honest mistake. Noting his embarrassed expression, she smoothed it over as if it never happened, "We visit his grave every year to pay our respects. It's one of the few times we all come together as a family." She then unwound herself from the ball she'd been curled in; a frustrated sigh escaping her, "I just wish I didn't have to come home with bad news."
For the longest moment, Steve stayed silent; tapping his pencil on the paper as he thought. Her mentioning of a grave reminded him of something else he had meant to do…there was no doubt in his mind that all his friends had their names engraved on a headstone somewhere…but so far, he hadn't worked up the nerve to seek any of them out. It was one truth he just wasn't ready for…
He turned his attention back to his table companion; trying to think of anything to say, but came up empty. And it was then that he noticed a flash of something gold, dangling around the girl's neck. He tried leaning in to get a closer look, but the young lady chose that moment to turn her head and caught him staring. Quickly, he flicked his eyes back down to his drawing, and cleared his throat, "Um…what's that you're wearing?"
She peeked down at her necklace, "What? This?" An earnest smile then escaped her lips, "Oh, it's my locket. I've had this forever."
The young woman then leaned over and stretched the chain as far as it would go; cupping the heart-shaped charm in her hand so he could get a better look. Upon closer inspection, inside the heart were two, small, silver hearts linked together. She then carefully opened the clasp of the locket, and instead of the typical photos of loved ones, a tiny four-leaf clover was contained within.
Steve couldn't help but smile, "So, you're part Irish too?"
The girl chuckled, "No. Polish, actually."
"It's very pretty", the blonde man leaned back and set to work on his drawing once more.
"Thanks", the girl blushed, "My grandma thought so too. My granddad got it for her, and it's been passed down through my family since then…for good luck." She shook her head, "Sure could've used some of that luck today."
"Is this the same granddad you're visiting?" Steve asked.
She nodded, "Yep. He got it for her birthday…and then a month later, he was being shipped off overseas…so my grandma gave the locket back to him with the clover inside for luck. He promised her he'd come back to return it…and the scary thing is, he almost didn't."
That got Steve's undivided attention. Although he didn't lift his hands from the paper, he still set the pencil down. His breath caught in his throat as he mumbled, "Um…what exactly do you mean by, 'he got shipped overseas'?" Somehow, he already knew the answer, but couldn't say it.
"Europe", the girl shrugged, as if it were a no brainer, "He was a private during World War II…'course, he always just called it 'the big one'." She shook her head as she took a sip of coffee, "I can only imagine what he must've gone through-any of those guys, really."
The soldier's face began turning pale, as if he'd seen a ghost. Almost inaudible, he mumbled, "…I think I've got a good idea…"
If the young lady heard him, she didn't say anything; instead, staring off into space-looking at everything and nothing as she thought back, "He was put in a nursing home when he couldn't take care of himself anymore…and once a month, my parents and I would visit him. He was in the service for so long, that's all he ever really talked about." She rubbed the back of her head as she blushed, "I know this sounds awful, but I kinda' used to get bored whenever he launched into one of his stories." When she caught the funny look Steve was giving her, she quickly added, "But, I mean, when you're only eight years old, you wanna' watch Saturday morning cartoons; not be stuck in a stuffy room with an old guy talking about things you can barely understand."
The soldier nodded, but his heart, never the less, was being tugged on. As reasonable as that sounded, he would've gladly traded places with her in a millisecond. But there was still that undeniable look of nostalgia in her eyes that made him raise a brow, "You seem pretty interested now…what made you change your mind?"
The girl started at him for a long beat; debating whether he'd feel like sticking around for her explanation or not. But one stare into his friendly eyes was all the convincing she needed. Hardly anyone bothered to give her the time of day, so to find someone who was genuinely interested in her was nothing short of surprising. Maybe it was high time that someone else knew the story behind her locket…
"Well", she began, "…I THINK I was about twelve at the time when I really started paying attention". She shrugged, "Maybe it was because I was more mature…but…I actually think it was because of one story he told that my whole outlook changed…it's the first one I clearly remember…"
She paused a moment; casting a sideways glance at her companion-wondering if she made the right decision. Noticing the silence, Steve leaned in, "I'm listening."
The young woman then leaned back in her seat again; curled up so her chin was resting on her knees. She stared up at the overhead ceiling fan, almost as if the spinning blades were putting her in some sort of trance so she could hear her grandfather's voice again. And sure enough, the story came flooding back as she remembered sitting by his bedside years ago.
"…my granddad and the unit he was in were put in charge of a big cargo plane full of supplies", she began, "…food, medicine; that kind of stuff. The main camp they were delivering to was near enemy lines, so they had to make sure it all got there in one piece." She then instinctively began twiddling the locket between her fingers as a rather haunted look crossed her features, "They were on the home stretch when the enemy spotted them and started shooting…and the plane was shot down."
"Did they all survive?" Steve couldn't help but ask. But a second later, he scolded himself for interrupting.
The girl nodded; not minding the break, "The plane didn't blow up or anything, but their fuel lines were hit, so they had to make an emergency crash landing. From what maps they had, they eventually figured out they were in Italy, over fifty miles off course, behind enemy lines, with no way to call for help". She finally stole a glance at her companion and raised a brow, "Needless to say, they weren't having the greatest day ever."
She paused to take a sip of coffee. By now, the soldier was completely entranced with her tale; his left over french fries cold and long forgotten. He leaned in more, like a kid in a candy store, "So, what did they do?"
The young lady sighed, as if she were there with the troops, dishing out the bad news, "Well, the only thing that WAS lucky about the whole thing was that they were in the middle of the woods…AND it was night time. So it would take a while before the enemy found them. So they did the only thing they COULD do…they grabbed whatever supplies they could carry, and they'd have to hike the rest of the way to camp…"
"…and all without getting caught…" Steve finished; his voice clearly in awe at what these men had to go through. True, he knew exactly how they felt; harkening back to his missions with Dugan and the Commandos…sneaking through the woods with HYDRA soldiers around every corner. How one misstep could get them all captured, or worse…but that certainly didn't make this story any less amazing. He took a swig of his soda, "What happened next?"
The girl scratched her chin; wondering how to proceed, "Well…my grandpa went into more detail, but I can't remember all of it. But basically, it was just him and his unit doing a lot of hiking and sneaking around. They'd have to find a place to hide and sleep during the day, then walk a few more miles at night. I think they were at it for about five…six days, I think. I'm not sure." She noticeably shivered as her voice tensed up, "I just know that eventually, they only had ten miles left to go, when…when they were captured."
Steve's eyes widened a tad, as he almost forgot that the story he was hearing happened over 70 years ago, and not right now, "Captured by who?"
"I don't know", the lady shrugged-clearly puzzled, "He said he thought they were Nazi's at first, but…they looked a little different. They wore these weird masks or something…and their symbol wasn't anything familiar." She rubbed her temple; trying to recall all the details, but came up short, "Well, whoever these guys were, they must've had a secret base hidden somewhere, and my granddad and his team stumbled upon it by accident. So these guys dragged them all back to their camp and imprisoned them."
The more the girl spoke, the more the soldier's eyes revealed the haunted memories hiding behind them. The men she described were HYDRA agents, no doubt. And the "secret camp" must've been one of the bases that he had discovered the location of when he liberated Bucky and the Commandos. This incident must've happened before he and his team stormed in and destroyed the place…or was there another camp that they missed? One that wasn't on the map he found? He just had to find out, "How did they escape? Or were they rescued?"
Had the story not been so serious, they young lady would've chuckled at her table mate's excitement. Needless to say, she found his interest more than surprising. Images of her grandfather came on full force as she explained, "He never did tell me exactly what went on in that place…just 'a lot of horrible things' he didn't wanna' talk about, so I never asked. But he said he prayed every night." She looked down at her necklace, "And he kept the locket close. He kept hoping his luck would hold out just a little longer…and then finally, one day, there was a big explosion, and they all heard this huge commotion going on outside. The room they were locked up in didn't have any windows, so they didn't know what was going on. There was just a lot of screaming and yelling and stuff blowing up."
And then, for the first time since she started telling the story, a tiny smile escaped her, "And then, all of a sudden, this guy came in and found them. Apparently, he and his unit were coming to destroy the place, but they didn't know my grandpa and his friends were there as prisoners. And the guy who had the keys to the cells was gone, so this guy had to shoot the locks off. Pretty soon, they were all free, and this guy told them how to get out and where to go once they were outside…and then he just disappeared."
The young lady paused to quench her thirst, during which Steve's heart began to beat just a tad faster…a possible HYDRA base…a crack team of soldiers coming in to destroy it…prisoners being rescued…little by little, this tale was starting to sound faintly familiar…he tried recalling his memories of all his missions with the Commandos-trying to see if any one of them fit the description of what this girl was telling him. But they had rescued POW's on more than one occasion…and yet, this story was setting off all kinds of alarms in his mind, but why? At that point, he could practically picture all the prisoners running out of burning building-making their escape…but why? WHY did this sound so familiar?
The soldier would soon get his answer when the girl continued, "So my grandpa and his friends ran as fast as they could…but then the building they were in started to blow up. Either a bomb hit it by accident, or these guys who captured them didn't want them to escape-my granddad never knew. But I think by then, most of them had gotten out." The woman's eyes widened as she braced herself for what she was about to say next. Clearly, the tale still amazed her just as much as when she first heard it, "But then…the roof collapsed, and…and this huge piece of rubble, and…and a support beam came down, and…and it…it fell on top of my grandpa."
Another light bulb went off in Steve's head, and a knot was beginning to form in his stomach…it couldn't be…it just couldn't…
"He got pinned underneath and couldn't move", she explained; getting a bit misty eyed, "A bunch of his friends tried to help him…tried to lift the concrete off of him…but it was too heavy. And then the place started to collapse more, and…and my grandpa told them all to leave him behind." The girl choked back a tear, "They didn't wanna' go, but…but he told them he'd never forgive them or himself if they all died because of him. So…well…there was nothing they could do, so…so they had to leave." She clutched the locket tightly in her hand, "He said he never felt so helpless before…he just wished he could see my grandma again-to be able to give the locket back to her like he promised…"
Steve knew that feeling all too well-his memories harkening back to those final moments on the plane…promising to take Peggy dancing-a promise he could now never fulfill…but his heart also jumped to his throat at what he was hearing…as a new and clear image suddenly came to him…
The girl then tilted her head towards the ceiling; a relieved smile returning as she tried to imagine the story in her own mind, "But then…all of a sudden…he could feel the beam being pushed off…and then the piece of concrete raised up…and when he looked up…"
In that moment, Steve wasn't in the café anymore. He was lifting a piece of rubble as if it were cardboard, staring down at a man who was lucky he wasn't completely crushed from the debris. The gentleman stared up at him in wide eyed amazement-too stunned at what he was seeing to move. Reality then came snapping back when the young lady chimed in.
"…there was Captain America…THE Captain America…he only heard about him in news reels and stuff, but there he was, in the flesh, holding up a slab of concrete all by himself! My granddad said it was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen in his life, and for a sec, he thought he was dead and it was all a dream." She then turned to her table companion, "And you wanna' know what happened next?"
Steve merely nodded his head, though in truth, he no longer needed an explanation-he KNEW what happened next. In the blink of an eye, he was back in the collapsing building again-trying to hold up the rubble with one hand, while he helped pull the soldier with the other hand, remarking that he thought it was "about time that they left". But the man's leg was broken-the other fractured, so there was no way they were both simply walking out the exit. Without another thought, the good Captain quickly slung his shield onto his back, before hoisting the soldier into his arms. After warning him to hold on tight, the Captain then ran as fast as his legs would carry him-literally jumping into a nearby jeep just as the last of the HYDRA base went up in flames…
And when the young lady recounted the flashback that just occurred to him-word for word, it took every ounce of his resolve to not jump up and tell her who he really was. To have to just sit there and pretend he was hearing this for the first time…to pretend he wasn't alive 70 years ago and wasn't the man in that star spangled uniform who saved her grandfather…suffice it to say, the only thing he COULD do was down the rest of his soda in one gulp-wishing the glass was filled with beer or whiskey instead.
"My grandpa must've fell unconscious or something", the girl shrugged, "He said the next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital tent. I guess the Captain must've dropped him off there, and had to leave to get back to his own team. My grandpa never saw him again after that."
At long last, Steve finally spoke; his voice a tiny mumble, "So…what happened to him?"
The woman sighed; running a hand through her hair, "Well, it's obvious those guys never did get the supplies to their camp. But I think by that point, it wasn't that big of a deal. Not a single one of those guys died, so for them, that was victory enough. But my grandpa had two broken legs, so he got to go home…and by the time he had fully healed up and was ready to go back, the war was pretty much over."
She then glanced over at Steve-her expression appearing both haunted and in awe at the same time, "My grandpa always said how it amazed him that Captain America would do that-would risk his life to go back and save one person, when he probably had bigger things to worry about. And it always bothered my granddad that he never got a chance to thank him. If it wasn't for the Captain, he would've been dead. He would've never made it home to give the locket back to my grandma…or marry her." The girl then actually giggled as she added, "And I probably would've paid attention more if he had started with THAT story FIRST."
She chuckled again, but this time, Steve joined in. His day had started off so gloomy, and just within the span of a few hours, nearly his entire outlook had done a 180. Her story-this moment-it was all so utterly surreal. Apparently, fate had it in the cards that he would walk into this particular café-cross paths with THIS woman…and learn that his actions WEREN'T all for naught. That he HAD made a difference-that by saving this one man, this girl was able to be even speaking to him right now. It almost made him want to cry, but then he remembered he had a secret identity to keep.
So he kept the tears at bay by smiling bigger. It's what Bucky would've told him to do, and who was he to not listen to his best friend?
The young lady blushed; trying not to stare at the blonde man-glancing at the nearby clock instead, "I'm so sorry I rambled on for so long."
"No, it's okay", Steve shook his head, "That was a very amazing story. You're lucky your grandfather was able to pass his stories onto you."
"I know", she nodded; glancing at the locket again, "I miss him. But I like talking about him. I think it keeps him alive in a way."
The soldier went silent for a moment as he considered her words. He constantly thought about Bucky and Peggy; his friends-his old life…but up until that point, he pretty much kept to himself…he never actually DID mention them to anyone else-never talked about his adventures to Natasha, or Fury, or anyone willing to listen. Perhaps it was high time that he did.
Realizing the long bout of quiet, Steve flashed his companion a smirk, "You still haven't told me what happened to your granddad after that."
The lady blinked at him; stunned at her new friend's never-ending patience. A moment went by, before she shrugged-speaking matter of factly, "Oh, well…like I said, he came home; got married; settled down-all that kind of stuff. And eventually, they had my dad. Life was good."
"Your dad the doctor?" Steve reminded himself.
"Yep", she nodded, "He met my mom-they got married, and my grandma gave the locket to my mom as a wedding present-for luck."
"Well, after hearing what it did for your granddad, I'm sure it came in handy", the soldier smiled.
The girl nearly laughed, but as a sudden thought occurred to her, her face grew serious again. Noticing her mood shift, Steve sat a little straighter, "…what?"
The woman sighed, "Actually, now that you mention it, it did." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat; wondering how much longer the blonde man was willing to sit and listen. But judging by his focused expression, it was clear he wasn't planning on leaving anytime soon. Never the less, she vowed to keep her next explanation much shorter, "My mom had gotten really sick. To this day, we don't know what exactly is wrong with her, but she had contracted some kind of virus that the hospital rarely dealt with. Any medicine or treatment she tried didn't work. But seeing how my dad's a doctor himself, he was able to find out about this experimental new drug. Apparently, it had worked a few times, but it was still being tested. But my dad convinced the hospital to let my mom try it-by then, they were willing to try anything." Her tone became lighter again as she added, "But thankfully, it worked…I mean, she's still frail, but…it got her well enough to have her baby."
"Brother or sister?" Steve couldn't help but ask.
She giggled, "No, ME silly!"
"Oh", the soldier blushed at his mistake. He had just assumed it happened after she was born…which now made that the second time her family had cheated fate. Maybe that locket of hers really WAS a lucky charm. But just then, a sudden thought occurred to him, and he raised a brow, "Did they ever say what this medicine was, exactly?"
The girl shook her head, "I'm not sure the hospital staff could explain it themselves. All they said was that it was some serum the government was testing for years, but they could only get a basic version of it to work."
Steve's stomach nearly did another barrel roll…there was no doubt in his mind just what that formula was…so Doctor Erskine's research WASN'T completely lost after all…and he was more than thankful that the parts of the serum that COULD be recovered was being put to good use at least.
Steve glanced at the locket again, "So then your mother gave that necklace to you?"
"Yep", the girl nodded, "And I wear it every single day."
"For luck?" the soldier smiled.
"For luck", the young lady chuckled. Her expression then turned more serious again, and she rested her head on her knees. Eyes staring off into space, she spoke in an almost wistful way, "It's a shame how my generation gets so wrapped up in the bad things happening right now, that they don't realize just how good we actually have it." She closed her eyes and sighed, "Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are just to be alive."
At those words, Steve was stunned into silence. He was already trying to swallow the fact that he was the reason this girl was even born…but to hear such unexpected words of wisdom from someone so young…he had often asked the higher powers that be, "why me?" Much like when he asked Erskine that same question…"why me?" Did fate guide him here so he could talk to this woman? Get the answer he was looking for?
Apparently…because for the first time in over six months, he was finally looking upon his situation in a new light.
The ship should've broke through the ice and drown him.
The ice should've crushed him.
The undetonated bombs should've exploded.
The 70 year coma should've destroyed his brain.
He should've been dead.
So many variables…so many things SHOULD'VE happened…but didn't. Whether it was God, fate, or luck, every tiny detail fell into just the right sequence so he could get another chance.
And that's all he ever asked for…another chance.
He was pulled from his thoughts when the lady suddenly spoke, "I wish I could've met Captain America-that would be cool. Like, to just have a time machine and go back and thank him…to thank any of them, really…for having the courage to do what normal people couldn't."
At that, the soldier nearly burst out laughing at the sheer irony of it all…but that would've garnered a lot of questions he wasn't prepared to answer. So instead, he gave her the biggest, warmest smile he had ever given in a long time, "I'm very sure they all know how grateful you are."
The girl turned and blinked at him; cheeks flushing red at his gentle voice-to which she couldn't help but smile back. And then suddenly, reality finally seeped in, and she stole a peek at the clock again-holding back a groan, "Jeez. It's been over an hour." She rubbed the back of her head and sheepishly turned to her companion, "I'm SO sorry I talked for so long. I hope I haven't wasted your time."
Steve quickly shook his head, "Oh no, it's no trouble at all. I'm glad I came in here…I really enjoyed your story."
The young lady considered him for a moment; wondering if he was just saying that to be nice. But his innocent eyes revealed his honesty…speaking of which, it was then that she noticed the very small worry lines around them. The man only looked a few years older than her…and yet, his eyes looked ancient…like they had seen many things; some of which should probably go unmentioned. She had recognized that look before in her grandfather's eyes, and it more than perked her curiosity. Very quietly, she asked, "I know I look like a jerk for not asking this earlier, but…you said you were having a rough day too…what was so bad about it?"
Steve paused a moment; thinking it all over. But at long last, he smirked and muttered, "You know what…I think I forgot how lucky I was too…I just needed to be reminded."
The young woman opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it. She recognized the old "I appreciate you asking, but I don't want to talk about it" look. So instead, she just smiled and nodded, before lifting her arms to the ceiling to stretch, "Thanks for listening to me gab. I think it really helped."
The soldier winked, "Feel better now?"
"Yep. I don't sweat the whole job thing anymore", she rose from her seat and stretched more. Even without looking at him directly, she added in, "The Risko's are survivors. I'll just have to find something else is all." She then turned to look at him; face beaming, "Besides, my granddad would tell me not to worry. He always said that bad days make the good ones even better."
Steve chuckled, "I'll have to remember that". His eyes then lit up as something occurred to him, "Oh, I'm sorry. All this time that we've been talking, and I never got your name."
Just then, the girl's eyes fell to the floor, and she blushed. The soldier arched a brow, "What?"
She began squirming where she stood; voice now tiny, "Um…promise you won't laugh."
Steve tilted his head; wondering what she was so nervous about. But he put on a smirk, never the less, "Promise."
Her face turned an even deeper shade of red, and after a long pause, she finally muttered, "….Agnes."
The blonde man kept quiet a moment, as he mulled over the name, or more importantly, why she thought it was something to hide. Agnes, in turn, mistook his silence for trying not to laugh, and she squirmed even more, "Pretty silly, huh? I was named after my grandma." When the soldier shot her an odd look, she quickly added, "I mean, I love her, but…AGNES? It's such an…'old timey' name, ya' know? Like, you don't hear it a lot anymore."
So THAT'S why she was so apprehensive, the soldier thought. He found it odd that an "old fashioned" name would bother her, considering that she seemed to like "old" things. Or maybe it wasn't that so much as maybe she had gotten picked on for it. Regardless, he grinned at her and spoke in all honesty, "I think it's a very pretty name."
She looked surprised-clearly, this was the first time someone told her that, "…really?"
He nodded, which made her blush some more. He then held his hand out; remembering that HE hadn't introduced himself either, "I'm Steve."
She shook his hand in earnest, "Steve…" She rolled the name over in her head; decided that it fit him, and smiled, "Nice to meet you."
"Are you from around here?" she asked.
He thought a moment; wondering how to answer her, "I am, but then I…moved away…for a while. I just moved back here."
"Lemme' guess; place looks pretty different, huh?" she cocked her head.
His eyes widened a tad, "You can say that again…"
She crossed her arms; voice optimistic, "Yeah, this city's always changing…but I know you'll find something familiar. You just have to look hard enough."
Steve kept quiet, but still gave her a smile as if to say "thank you". Agnes grinned in kind. It was then that the man glanced down at his placemat; remembering just what had started the conversation in the first place. He carefully picked up the piece of paper and handed it to her, "Oh, here's the drawing I promised you. It was kind of tricky because I only had one reference to go by, but…I hope you like it."
The girl kindly took the sheet of paper and nearly gasped at what lied before her. In less than an hour, her ever patient listener had illustrated a beautiful field of daffodils, not unlike the one in her hair. There was also a flock of birds and a few trees dotted around, but almost the entire page was wall-to-wall flowers. The sheer sight of such an amazing piece of artwork, coupled with the fact that a random stranger drew it just for her-just to make her happy…
Agnes tried to hold back a tear, to which Steve took notice. He cast her a worried look, "Are you alright?"
She stared down at the drawing, then back at him; voice a whisper, "Mister…are you an angel?"
The man's eyes widened; completely taken aback. Although his cheeks blushed, he still chuckled; familiar words echoing out, "Nah…I'm just a kid from Brooklyn."
The girl said nothing; too entranced at the scene unfolding. So Steve took the initiative, "You said that flower was from your garden?"
He pointed to the daffodil in question, and she merely nodded-at last finding her voice, "There's a little greenhouse on top of my apartment building. I'm in it every day."
"So, I'm guessing you know a lot about flowers then?" he tilted his head.
She shrugged, "I guess so, yeah."
"Maybe you should be a florist then", he smirked, "You certainly know how to make a guy feel better."
Although her eyes were focused on him, it was clear her mind was elsewhere, as she seriously considered his proposition. Only an hour before, she had been weeping over never finding a talent, and here, this gentleman had given her the answer that was right in front of her the whole time. Not knowing what else to say, she giggled, "I'll think about it."
Agnes finally stole one more glance at the clock and sighed, "I better get going; it's getting late." She then grinned from ear to ear, "I can't thank you enough for everything. We really need more people like you around."
"I can say the same for you", Steve nodded. His face grew serious for a moment, "Are you going to be alright?"
"Oh yeah", she waved him off, "It's not the end of the world. I'll just do what I can." She then rolled up the drawing; taking special care to not bend or rip it, "That's all any of us can do-just do what we can."
The soldier merely nodded; taking her advice to heart.
The young lady turned to leave, but not before staring at the man one more time, "…I'm glad to have met you, Steve."
"Same to you, Agnes", he smiled, "Give my regards to your family-your granddad especially."
"Oh, don't worry, I will", she waved, "Thanks again!"
And with that, the girl left the café; walking past the window with a happy smile-almost as if the drama beforehand never happened. And Steve, for his part, was glad for her-glad that he was able to help someone, even if it was just to lend an ear. As he finally got to work on finishing his long-forgotten lunch, he replayed the entire conversation over and over in his head; amazed at everything he had learned.
"So it WASN'T all for nothing", he thought. And that was two people now who said they needed him-the first being Fury. True, these two were implying two different things, but never the less…
…well, who was he to back down from a challenge? This world was new; it was going to take A LOT of getting used to; things were different…but there were enough similarities for him to grasp as well. He'd just have to take it one day at a time. It was just the recruiting office all over again. And big or small, even in a new day and age, he was going to prove he COULD still make a difference.
Steve arrived back at the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base later in the evening, where he was met by a rather relieved Agent Coulson. But as much as the man respected the Captain, he couldn't hide the tension in his voice, "Captain Rogers, as much as I applaud you for wanting to get more acquainted with modern day society, please at least warn us when you plan on 'exploring' for hours at a time."
"Didn't know an afternoon stroll would be enough to sick the blood hounds on me", the soldier joked, but his tone made it clear he still respected the secret agent.
Coulson sighed, "Let's just say Fury gets nervous when a century old superhero goes wandering off."
At that, Steve couldn't help but chuckle; taking off his jacket as he did so, "I know if I wasn't allowed to take a walk, I wouldn't have made it out the front door. I'm not going to get him angry." He then flopped into the nearest chair; rubbing his eyes, "I just needed to get away for a while-clear my head."
The agent kept up his poker face, but a brief flicker of sympathy was evident in his eyes. No doubt, he heard through the grapevine of the broken Kindle that was discovered in Steve's quarters. For once, he wasn't going to ask just what had happened. Instead, he relaxed a bit; letting his business side drop a moment, "…are you okay?"
There came a long pause as the soldier thought it over, and then he smirked, "…I think I will be."
Coulson then flashed a very rare smile, "Well, if you need anything, you know we're all here to help."
"Thanks", Steve nodded, and both he and the secret agent knew just how much weight that one word carried. Feeling that it was best to leave the Captain alone, Coulson then made his way to the door. He was almost there when the solider suddenly spoke out, "Have I ever told you that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't the first secret agents I've met?"
The agent turned around-clearly interested, "No. You haven't."
The blonde man motioned to his body, "The procedure took place underneath an antique shop…guarded by an old lady with a tommy gun."
His grin afterwards was infectious, and Coulson smirked, "Really? That's an image I would've loved to see."
"I've got all kinds of stories", the soldier shrugged, "…if you ever have the time."
There was a pause as the agent considered what his unique charge was implying. He wanted more than anything to sit and hear what a 70 year old legend had to talk about…so he responded, completely earnest, "Captain…we all want to hear your stories…and when you make your official return, the world will be listening."
Steve said nothing-his smile was all the answer Coulson needed. So he nodded, "Good night, Captain."
"Please, just Steve", the soldier tilted his head, "Or Mr. Rogers."
Coulson chuckled, "Nah. If I say that, all I can think of is King Friday and magic trolleys."
Naturally, Steve didn't get the reference, and he didn't get a chance to ask, since the agent chose that moment to make his exit. But he didn't mind. He'd just look it up…eventually…after he got to work on that portrait of his friends…and tracked down the cemetery where Agnes' granddad was…as well as Peggy, Bucky, Dugan, Howard, and everyone else he could think of. He had a bucket list of things to do, and it was time to actually DO it…time to get some closure…time to finally move on. If Agnes could do it, he could do it.
…he'd just need someone to show him how to use that thing called the "internet" first.